1 Cor. 2:10-16; Ps. 145:8-15; Luke 4: 31-37
I have a problem: I don’t believe in demons–not in any literal sense. So I can’t believe in casting them out. And, so, I can’t think of Jesus as an exorcist. I love scary movies with “beasties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night”. But Jesus is not my personal Lord and exorcist. He is many things to me, but not that.
The demon-buster stories, by the way, occur only in Matthew, Mark and Luke (the synoptic gospels). John has no stories of Jesus casting out demons. In all the letters of Paul, there is not a single reference to Jesus casting out demons. Beyond the synoptic gospels, the whole exorcist thing falls off the screen.
Why are there exorcisms in the synoptic gospels but nowhere else? I don’t know—that would be interesting to find out. But, it would seem, John and his followers had a somewhat different vision of Jesus. And Paul and his followers had a somewhat different vision of Jesus. So, it seems to me, we, too, are permitted to have a different vision of Jesus.
But, if Jesus is not our personal Lord and exorcist, who is Jesus? “Who are you, Lord?” Paul asks when he’s knocked off his horse on the Damascus Road. “Who are you, Lord?” He says—not realizing he has answered his own question.
We hear echoes of another question: “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus’ question to his disciples at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus’ perennial question. Jesus’ question to our own questing and questioning hearts. “Who are you, Lord?” “Who do you say that I am?”
These questions reverberate down through history. How we answer those questions is in constant flux. Each generation envisions Jesus in its own way. Each culture envisions Jesus in its own way. Each branch of the Church envisions Jesus in a particular way. Even other religions understand Jesus in their own way. Always in flux, the vision of who Christ is, is a living thing: living, changing, growing, shifting. Shifting focus, changing emphasis.
Teacher, prophet, king, Lamb of God, Savior, Light of the World, Bread of Life, Prince of Peace. The second Adam, the new Moses. The Good Shepherd. The Way, the Truth and the Life. The Resurrection. The Word of God who was in the beginning with God and was God. The Word made flesh. And Jesus is friend. And much more.
How we see Jesus depends a lot on where we stand. Our vision of Jesus often is shaped by our circumstances. Many people who came to maturity during the social upheavals of the 1960’s, to take one example, came to see Jesus as “liberator”. A vision that was there all along, but it took a particular social context for it to be seen clearly.
“Who are you, Lord?” we ask. “Who do you say that I am?”
We search for a fuller vision. And our searching is part of a deeper searching. “The Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Cor.). The Spirit searches the depths of God wherever God is. The Spirit searches the depths of God in and through the depths of the human heart, in and through the theater of the human imagination. The Spirit searches the depths of God—in and through the complexities of the human experience and all its joys and sorrows.
Perhaps the Spirit’s searching is what Paul means when he says in that same passage “We have the mind of Christ.” The Spirit of Christ in us, searching, searching, searching. The mind of Christ, searching, searching, searching deep within us for the vision of Christ in all its fullness. A vision that—somehow!– requires our participation.
“Who are you, Lord?” “Who do you say that I am?” I should try to answer that question myself. Who is Jesus—for me, for now?
Jesus has been many things for me—and continues to be. Not an exorcist—at least in any literal sense. Whatever my personal “demons” might be, they have psychological roots, not supernatural causes. But, if Jesus is not my personal Lord and exorcist, then what?
Teacher, prophet, king, Lamb of God, Savior, Light of the World. Good Shepherd. The Way, the Truth and the Life. The Resurrection. Love. Word made flesh. Friend. Healer.
All these things resonate in my soul. And one more. In my own prayer and reflection I have been drawn increasingly to think of Jesus as Sabbath, in a sense, the True Sabbath. (Some of you may recognize these thoughts from a brief early morning homily a few weeks ago.)
There is a Sabbath of time, a chronological Sabbath: the seventh day, the day of rest from our labors. Jesus is, in a way, the personal Sabbath–perhaps we could say the existential Sabbath. Monday is my chronological Sabbath; Jesus is my personal Lord and True Sabbath. So, I am doubly blessed with Sabbaths.
Maybe new vocabulary, but not a new idea. “Our souls are restless, Lord, until they rest in you,” St. Augustine said. Jesus himself says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Come to me and you will find rest for your souls. Our hearts rest in Jesus, even in the midst of very busy lives our heart of hearts rests in him. Even when we’re saying things Jesus wouldn’t say; even when we’re thinking or feeling things Jesus wouldn’t think or feel—even then our heart of hearts rests in him.
This Sabbath rest is with us always—seven days a week, even unto the end of the age. In him we live and move and have our being. Shabbat shalom. Sabbath peace. Come to me; rest in me.
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